Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Fall 1978 - I Love Football Part 1

Fall 1978- I Love Football Part 1

Considering how much I love football today, it’s hard to believe that there was once a time where I didn’t like football at all. (If the Cowboys keep screwing things up, I’ll revert back to my early childhood.) But when we lived on Young Street, I was attending East Ward Elementary, and I do not recall not a single time where we went outside and played football. It’s just as well; 1st and 2nd graders probably didn’t (and don’t) need to be playing (tackle) football anyway. In Abilene, the only thing kids played on the base were soccer and baseball. Plus, kickball and dodgeball were really popular. We tried to play football a couple of times, but it seemed that over half of the boys had no idea on how to play the sport; I know I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, never did touch the football, never tackled anyone, and I just didn’t like football at that time.

When we moved back to Longview in the summer of ’78 and I started attending Jodie McClure, things began to change. I quickly noticed that Jodie McClure had a football team, the Mustangs, and that if you were a Mustang, then you were a somebody. The Mustangs were a very good football team. However, the seeds for my eventual love for football were planted a few years earlier:

When I was little, we used to go visit my daddy’s Aunt Thelma (my grandmother’s sister) in Marshall. I’d play with her grandkids, Cory and Lisa, who were around my age, or if they weren’t there, I’d sit down in the house and look at the various interesting objects around the room. If there was one thing Aunt Thelma was crazy about, it was the Dallas Cowboys. Whenever we went there during the fall on Sundays, the TV was always on the Cowboys’ game. ALWAYS. She was very much into the Cowboys, yelling and cheering when they did good and screaming and booing when they did bad. When I was 7 years old, it amused me more than anything else, but when I turned 9 years old, after watching everyone get excited about Dallas winning the Super Bowl (and watching the game myself), I started getting more than just amused. I started getting kind of interested in the sport. I had liked baseball more than any other sport, but in 1978, that slowly began to change.

On the way home from Dyess Elementary School, I was walking with a friend of mine named Ronald Hernendez (I believe). He was Hispanic, the only one in the 4th grade at that time, and he had some cards in his hand. We stopped at a trash can, and he was about to throw the cards in it when I asked him what did he have in his hand. “Football cards”, he replied. “Do you want them?” “Sure, I’ll take them.” And thus began one of my hobbies- football card collecting. I had no idea what the stats meant on back of the cards, but I was willing to learn. And thus ended was my collecting of baseball cards- I had a few but I gave them to my next-door neighbor when I moved away. I probably should’ve kept those cards, considering their worth today. Anyway, I started out with about 40-50 football cards, and the only players I recognized were Robert Newhouse of the Cowboys and Ken Stabler of the Raiders. The first seed had been planted.

We went to go see Aunt Thelma one summer day in ’78, and I went and sat in a bedroom since Cory and Lisa weren’t there. I looked around and there was a giant Cowboys poster on the wall, and she had a bunch of football magazines and Cowboys’ magazines on a shelf. I sat there, and since I loved to read, picked up a magazine and started reading it. I’d read until it was time to leave, and I would put the magazine back up, wanting to finish it, but having to wait another time. It got so that every time we went to see her, I’d go in that room, get a magazine, and start reading it. Slowly, but surely, I started understanding the sport of football and why the Cowboys were so popular. Winning the Super Bowl earlier that year obviously helped the Cowboys. Just from reading the magazines and studying the poster on the wall, I learned who the players were. From Roger Staubach to Tony Dorsett to Drew Pearson to Charlie Waters, I learned about everyone who was playing for the Cowboys at the time. Then one day, Aunt Thelma asked me if I wanted the old poster and some of the older magazines. (She wanted to make room for the new ones.) I said, “Yes!” And the second seed had been planted.

A little bit before the first day of school, Momma took me to Brookshire’s when it was on Mobberly Ave. Usually I’d want a comic book or a candy bar, but this time I didn’t want either one. I went to the magazine rack and picked out a football magazine and asked her if I could buy it. Roger Staubach was on the cover as I recall, and it was mildly surprising that my mom let me buy the magazine if only it was because it wasn’t a comic book (which she didn’t really care for). I remember taking it home and reading it from front to back, then cutting pictures out from it to glue on paper. (I called myself making my own football book.) Then later on, maybe a couple of weeks later, at that same Brookshire’s, I discovered that they sold football cards wrapped up with the piece of gum. And I started buying those- I never chewed the gum; I’d throw it away or give it to my sister, and I’d keep the real treasure, the football cards. The third seed had been planted.

And so it came to pass that when we had PE at school, the boys would play football and the girls would play kickball. It would be my 5th grade class vs. the other 5th grade class (Miss Stone’s class vs. Mr. Taylor’s class), and as I would discover and learn, the rivalry was fierce. I had a vague idea of how the sport was played, but at least I knew what I was doing and what the rules were. We had a couple of games before the Mustangs officially had their tryouts and games, and in the first game, our class won, 14-7. I didn’t do anything except go out for passes on offense, and cover the one person the other team was not going to throw the ball to, and it was boring. I didn’t even touch the football, and I remembered why I didn’t like football before.

However, in the 2nd game, things changed for all-time. We were losing 7-0, and nobody on our team was catching the ball. Our QB, Robert Taylor, was frustrated and seemed to about to give up throwing it period, when Roy (Craine), who I didn’t know at the time since this was very early in the school year, told Robert, ”Why not throw it to him?” (Which was me) “He’s open all the time.” Robert shook his head ok, and although I wanted to do more than run up and down the field, I was a little apprehensive about having the ball thrown to me. But Robert said, “Hut!”, and I took off running down the field. Nobody was covering me. Robert watched me all the way, then let loose a deep pass. I was thinking, Oh Lord, let me catch this. It seemed to take forever to come down, with two of Mr. Taylor’s students bearing down on me, but when it did, it hit me in the hands, I juggled it, and I fell down backwards with the catch. My team went crazy- it wasn’t a touchdown, I had fell and was touched down, but it was a long pass and catch. Even the girls had turned and looked and were cheering me. I thought, Whoa, this is pretty cool. On the very next play, things got a LOT more COOLER. On what was basically a slant, I scored the first touchdown of my life. This time I caught the pass cleanly, sliding on my knees even, and soaked in even louder cheers. We went on to win that game 28-7, and I had caught four passes in all. The seed had sprouted leaves and fruit- that being my love for football.

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